review by Neo

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Originality has never been a word associated with the HK action/martial arts genre, ever since the early 90s, but the words – coolness, intensity, brutal, creative can easily be associated with almost all HK 90s action era. Rarely does a movie kept me “glued” to the seat, even though the rushing of water within my body is almost bursting. In a sad, but true reality, the days of gritty on the ground action/crime is long gone, but what SPL does is not reinvent the genre, but giving out a glimpse of hope – hopefully of more to come. Director Wilson Yip is a promising director, and while he does nothing new, his ability to utilise an all-star action cast of veterans and youngsters is menacing to watch – Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Simon Yam show their years of experiences and while Wu Jing shows that there may still be life after the veterans. SPL is exactly the sort of martial arts film that HK cinema has been missing and quite frankly – one of the best cop-robbers since the Infernal Affairs’ days.

The movie goes like this: A successful serious crime investigation police unit, headed by articulate senior detective Chan (Simon Yam), tackles crime with three other detectives from different backgrounds. Martial arts expert Ma (Donnie Yen) is set to take over as head of the unit, replacing Chan who wants to have an early retirement. Ma is determined to put things right. Po (Sammo Hung), an upcoming figure in the underworld with interests in every kind of criminal activity, and Jack (Jing Wu) – Po’s right-hand man, is a reclusive cold-blooded killer. An undercover agent is found dead who sent by Chan to get near to Po. With no evidence whatsoever Chan thinks it’s the work of Po and sends people to bring him in anyway. Po is released with insufficient evidence and he challenges Chan that if he and his men step out of the police station they are dead.

The filmic shots of the corrupted underground – film nourish settings is devastating to watch, when combined with the brutal, mind-blowing fight scenes, the movie seem more like art than commercialism. It’s rare that an action film can be so unrealistic yet so realistic at the same time. The realism is not the ground fighting, but rather the blood and tears of humanity within each heroes and villains. Call it an accident or perhaps a stroke of good timing, but this what I call ambitious filmmaking. However, what SPL differs from typical cliché action films, is the core within its heart and values that so easily translate into the audience’s mind and heart. It is gritty, yet brutal, but it defines the fine line of cops and triads. Good and evil is a theme that is almost cliché in the world of HK cinema and a theme that exists in almost all Shakespeareans’ essays. Needless to say, triads are bad and cops are corrupted, but to what extent is it true? Infernal Affairs question what defines a good person, but SPL shows the differences between pursuing evil for evil sake and pursuing evil for justice sake.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that a friend of mine wrote: “you guys are evil, you guys are mean and stupid” at the corner of my SPL’s draft copy (obviously describing Neo’s character). So it is almost fascinating to uncover meanings within these unintentional words, but what it really do, is perfectly describes the cops and triads within this movie – evil, mean and stupid. Humanity is evil to begin with – constantly tempted and eagerly encouraged to take the easier path. Just when it used to be “cool” by being evil and shit, it is now almost a cliché to be associated with, after all we all are. However, what is the fine line between evil and good? Simon Yam and his legions have pursued a goal nearly their whole life – pursuing justice and order within a very messy and commercial society. All their life they risked all for justice, but at what cost? Manufacturing evidences, destroying lives of those that are in the way of justice and framing a triad head for murder. For a moment, relax and think – just because society views cops are heroes and good people – are they? What are laws, rules and regulations – are they merely ones’ opinion on what’s right? Yip cleverly blends all these deep values within the movie and the result is an absolute engrossing movie event.

SPL is a defining piece of good HK cinema where almost everything seems right. Perhaps it is all about timing and execution, but to me its all about connecting to the audience as there is no point of having great action scenes and characters dying when the audience is laughing. This is where, SPL succeeds and other fails as not only do we care bout the untimely deaths of the characters, but also the reasons behind their existence and in knowing it, allows us to endure the full range of emotions of shock and heartfelt.

People watch movies for whatever reasons, ultimately wants to be entertained and this is where this film succeeds. Stylishly shot with film noir techniques, Yip is certainly a classed director and his past body of work only represent even more how good films can still be made, even if you do not have an original idea. This is Ong Bak with a plot, Infernal Affairs with martial arts and Sin City with less black and white. Call me a passionate reviewer, constantly overwhelmed by feelings, but when I like a movie - the feel component must be there. A good film must connect to the audience, through whatever techniques it may be - manipulation or naturally. SPL is a perfect example of film that is able to combine a tail of genres and the result is what I call an outstanding piece of production. Perhaps there are weakness, but rarely do I sit on a chair and become totally glued to the seat and overcoming the urge of going to the loo. It was that tight, tense and seeming ride with a dagger pointing at my head. It was that brilliant.

SPL isn't exactly a movie that will define the genre, but brings a fresh new hope for 21st century HK martial arts cinema, showing that there is still life beyond wire-fu and that ground and ground, hardcore fighting can still make an entertaining and gripping movie. One of the most perfect movie for 2005, SPL is exactly what die-hard martial arts fans are waiting for. 2005 is becoming Donnie Yen's year of experience finally showing on the big screen, after this outstanding performance in Seven Swords, here he is calculatingly cool. Sure, a lot of the actors involved are pasted their prime, but the glimpse of youth in Wu Jing - perhaps giving life to genre that has almost vanished. This is a brilliant production and while it is a broad statement to call it the best 2005 movie of the year, their is another bias factor to it - Neo loved it. Enough Said...

I rate it 10/10

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Genre: Triad Drama Action
Director: Director: Wilson Yip
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Wu Jing
Reviewed by Andrew (Neo), January 2006